Not Like the Movies in the USA


Not Like the Movies in the USA         

          After I send my new love this picture, he emails back: “Wait a minute! You live in this cabin?! No way you live in this out-of-some-movie cabin?! No way! Okay, can I be your friend?! Please? Please? Okay, I am overwhelmed with this! You should write something romantic out there.”

            In reality, my little cabin has nothing remotely cinematic about it. Compost toilet, perennial mice, flies, a water system that breaks down every winter, so that many months of each year are devoted to “hauling water,” a new chore unfamiliar to me in my previous existence as a city-dwelling professor living on every grid that exists.

            Some old colleagues came to visit, and uniformly agreed: “I could never live out here,” and I knew they weren’t talking about the compost toilet, because they hadn’t yet entered the cabin.

            But my beloved, also a writer, was thrilled when he actually visited. “I bet I could finally finish something I started out here,” he said, imagining life off the grid not as a hassle, not as an interminable drive over excessively wash-boarded roads away from what some call “civilization,” but another reality entirely. A place where one can “hear oneself think.”

            Pronghorn antelope roam the meadows, sometimes seating themselves at the edges of the road, taking in the morning sun-warmed dirt. Every summer one male, cast off by his group, searches for a new herd. His horns sometimes appear over the crest of the hill a mile from the cabin. He is my sentinel, alerting me to the nearness of home. Surely it’s not the same youngster each of these seven years, but I sense a similar melancholy in these boys. Cast out, seeking community. Perhaps some of my visitors feel the same when they come to this wide open space without trees. Perhaps they feel cast out of someplace else rather than welcome to this vast land.

            Never in my life had I imagined living without trees! I moved here from the excessively verdant Pacific Northwest, where moisture drips incessantly, moss burgeons across rooftops and sidewalks, and the forest overwhelms the trees.

            No obvious shelter here, no deterrent to the relentless wind that sweeps the acreage, picking up lightweight rocking chairs from the deck and smashing them, piecemeal, onto the scrub. And yet, there’s something elemental about that openness to sky and cloud and weather of every kind. The hawks glide the thermals and sometimes land for a kill: mice or voles or moles or prairie dogs. Out here, you have to make peace with the critters, or you’ll never survive a year.

            Inside, the walls are adorned with my son’s drawings, Aboriginal prints from Pitjantjatjara, bark cloth from Fiji, and hundreds of Crayola-colored bundles of yarn for rugmaking, which also help to pad the uninsulated half-log cabin. Yet the wind can blow them through the cracks and hurl them onto the floor, lift the curtains from the glass with numbing velocity.

            What will we look forward to out those single-paned windows? Spectacular cloudscapes, storms that linger in summer, casting hail on the nasturtium flourishing in pots lining the deck. This year, mice gobbled my germinating buds – inside!

            New problems announce themselves regularly, and one has to be innovative to create solutions. Nature is in charge here, not people. I prefer it that way. He likes the coyotes infiltrating the night silence, and the way unexplained lights pierce the dark. Looking ahead to winter, our fantasies of being snowed in bode well for when the roads slick up, and drifts lace the ridges, when we human beings are really, truly, out of control.


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